Monday, August 20, 2007

Bush As The Embarrassing Uncle The Republicans Wish Would Go Away

That President Bush is a damaging figurehead for any wannabe Republican presidential candidate is a repeating theme of American mainstream media commentary, though it was originally raised in the blogstream two years ago. This theme is important because it underlies the most prominent failings of the Bush presidency, and the singular mission of chief adviser, Karl Rove - to recreate American politics so that conservatives, and the hard right, rule for decades to come, remaking America, and the larger world, in their own image, and converting the masses to their own belief system.

Gary Younge, writing at Comment Is Free, has more on this :

Bush's problem is not that he has failed on our terms - humanism, equality, peace and democracy - but that he has failed on his own.

...the Bush agenda was always more far-reaching than anything that can be accounted for by mere polls, war, or the loss of human life. The ultimate aim of his presidency was to realign American politics to cement a conservative electoral majority for a generation. The cornerstone of his domestic agenda was to build on the Republicans' traditional base of evangelists, southerners, white men and the wealthy, by winning over Catholics, married white women and a sizable minority of Latinos with a mixture of policies and pronouncements on immigration, homophobia, abortion and social security.

Bush did not create the partisan split in America; he inherited it, just as Al Gore would have if he had won the supreme court case in 2000. But while the split was broad (the difference was less than 5% in 13 states from New Mexico to New Hampshire), it was Bush who made it deep and rancorous.

For unlike Thatcher or Reagan he sought to achieve his ends not by exploiting division in order to forge a new, more rightwing consensus but rather to exploit new divisions in order to crush a growing consensus. The majority of the country was, for example, pro-choice and in favour of granting equal rights to gay couples in almost all areas. So the Bush administration chose to leverage gay marriage and late-term abortion - two issues that could act as a wedge - to rally his base. Crude in execution and majoritarian in impulse, it sought not to win over new converts but simply to mobilise dormant constituencies. His legacy will be rightwing policies - but not a more rightwing political culture.

That his agenda should have failed so completely should come as no surprise. The project was always, at root, a faith-based initiative. Following the Republican congressional victory in 2002 Rove was asked to comment on the fact that the nation seemed evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. "Something else is going on out there," he said. "Something else more fundamental ... But we will only know it retrospectively. In two years, or four years or six years, [we may] look back and say the dam began to break in 2002."

With no discernible material basis on which to build, this new majority at home and new world order abroad had to be fashioned from whole cloth. A Bush aide once ridiculed a New York Times reporter for belonging to "the reality-based community", which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality". "That's not the way the world really works any more," he said. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

So here we are studying. The coalition crumbled. In 2006 Catholics backed the Democrats; white women broke even. According to a Wall Street Journal poll, Americans would prefer the next president to be a Democrat by 52% to 31%. Meanwhile, the presumptive standard bearer for this new majority is treated like a pariah. As the Republican hopeful Mitt Romney pressed flesh in a restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire, a few weeks ago, Muriel Allard said: "We need someone like him. They don't care about us over there." At a town hall meeting a couple of hours away in Keene, another Republican contender, John McCain, was asked last month if it wasn't time to put a "warrior in chief" in the White House rather than these "draft dodgers". Bush's name never came up. "Friends who were obnoxious in their praise for him just don't mention him any more," says Rick Holmes from Derry. "He's like the embarrassing uncle you just don't want to talk about."

A sense of doom among Republicans is palpable. A growing number of Republican congressmen - most recently the former house speaker Dennis Hastert - have announced they are to retire, or are considering it. "Democrats will win the White House [and] hold their majority in the house and in the Senate in 2008," the retiring congressman Ray Lahood told the New York Times.

There is even talk that Republicans might not invite Bush to their convention. "If they're smart, no," the Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio told Newsweek. "Especially if things don't change in Iraq, we'll have the problem the Democrats had in 1968 with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. The question becomes: where do we hide the president?"

They don't have to hide the president. The Republicans can just keep doing what they've been doing through their televised debates so far : pretend he doesn't exist.